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Wednesday, July 19, 2006 12:59 am

Self-loathing as art

Lisa Germano excels at singing about being fat, trashed, and duped

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Lisa Germano’s publishing company is called Emotional Wench, a name that is, to quote Homer Simpson, funny because it’s true. In the annals of indie dysfunction, few singer/songwriters have plumbed the poetics of self-loathing as rigorously as Germano has. Since 1991, when the former John Mellencamp violinist released her solo debut, she’s been singing about feeling fat, getting trashed, and being duped by herself and others. The liner notes to her third album, 1994’s Geek the Girl, provided the following useful gloss: “This is the story of geek the girl, a girl who is confused about how to be sexual and cool in the world but finds out she isn’t cool and gets constantly taken advantage of sexually, gets kind of sick and enjoys giving up but at the end still tries to believe in something beautiful and dreams of still loving a man in hopes that he can save her from her s**t life . . . ha ha ha what a geek!” In one agonizing, hilarious run-on sentence, she described not only the gist of that particular album but also, more or less, her entire MO.

In a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times, she identified the theme of In the Maybe World, her seventh official full-length and the first for Young God, as death: “It could be a real death or a death inside or the death of a relationship or the death of an idea. But it is about death and not fearing it.” Although that’s about as sanguine as Germano is likely to get (i.e., not very), hers is an oddly uplifting form of pessimism. Life is a sad trick we play on ourselves — might as well wring as much beauty from it as possible. And beauty is something that Maybe has in spades. Like her last CD, the exquisite addiction log Lullaby for Liquid Pig, it’s fragile and almost impossibly slow, a dreamy concatenation of keening strings, reverberant piano, and Germano’s sinus headache of a contralto punctuated by analog hiss, mysterious noises, and spells of total silence. Although Joey Waronker plays barely-there drums on a couple of tracks, Sebastian Steinberg adds bowed bass, and ex-Smiths legend Johnny Marr supplies some glorious guitar shudders, most of the music is played by Germano, who also produced the record. This insularity suits her well; the full-out band treatment would puncture these glistening soap bubbles. The album is very much of a piece, each close-to-the-mic confessional trembling in the stillness like a mirage, its meaning accrued over time, in hazy layers.

The last lines of opening cut “The Day,” a gorgeous fragment assembled from spooky organ blurts, teensy guitar pings, dainty keyboard arpeggios, and shadowy violin strokes, nicely introduce the world according to Germano: “What did you do to be like this/and what do you do/when you feel it and you don’t go?/Pretend that you don’t know.” Another highlight, “Golden Cities,” is ostensibly about the death of her cat (the oft-cited Miamo-Tutti, to whom Germano gives songwriting credit), but, like so much of her work, is really about hope and all of the other pretty lies that sustain us. “Say you will, say you might,” she sings, every inhalation a wish made audible, “come around my room tonight.” Other songs have a more aggressive edge, although they aren’t what you’d call exactly rocking. The comically grumpy “In the Land of Fairies” is the sonic corollary to delirium tremens, a minor-key piano ballad that rolls and pitches like a drunkard’s bed; the vaguely Neil Young-ish “Red Thread” finds her chanting obscene imperatives before closing with the non sequitur “I love you/I love you, too.” Hey, emotional wench: We second that emotion.

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